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Wednesday, July 24

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Cubs in Five

You Are Morally Obligated To Watch Each Of The Next Three Games
by Jeff Webber

One: The Next Three Games Are Required Viewing
"Did Milwaukee win?" That's a question you'll hear over and over the next few weeks. The lead over Milwaukee is a mere game and a half. On paper, the Cubs are a stronger team with an easier schedule, but the race is likely to go down to the wire. That's why the three games series against Milwaukee over the next three days is make-or-break time. If we sweep the Brewers (as San Fran just did), you can start buying hot dogs for your playoff party. If they sweep us, well, you have to hear about the goat again. In each game of the series, we pit one of our three best starters (Hill, Zambrano and Lilly) against one of their guys who's having an inferior year, but still has the experience and/or stuff for a big game. Should be outstanding to watch.

Two: The Fonz Is Back
Alfonso Soriano takes the field tonight in left field. He'll hit leadoff again. Though Murton and Floyd have done fairly well manning his position and though Ryan "The Riot" Theriot did well leading off in the $17 million dollar man's absence, it'll be nice to get the team catalyst back on board.

Three: I Wish That Someone Would Pay Me $1.05 Million on the Off-Chance I Might Be Vaguely Useful at My Job for Six Weeks
The Cubs traded for scuffling Detroit outfielder Craig Monroe last week, in an apparent effort to make it physically impossible for Matt Murton to ever ever EVER get to actually play. Old school types will point out that while Monroe is "having an off year" he still scored 274 times and drove in 323 runs over the previous four seasons. But, as Baseball-Reference's outstanding new Stat of the Day Blog pointed out, Monroe was actually the worst hitter in baseball to amass such "counting stats" over that period. Translated from statgeek into English: "You know how sometimes guys seem good because of things they only indirectly control like runs, wins, etc., but actually they still stink? Craig Monroe is a prime example."

Four: And This Is a Playoff Offense?
Thanks to injuries at key times to key players in the lineup, as well as to Derrek Lee's sudden metamorphosis into Keith Hernandez (I mean the limited power, not the Just For Men ads), the Cubs seem shockingly likely to make the postseason without having a single player hit 30 home runs or drive in 100 runs. True, Lee will probably bounce back somewhat next year and Lee and Soriano are unlikely to spend as much time hurt next year as they did in '07 (you'd hope). But should the Cubs fail to pull the whole thing off this year, this lack of a big-time bopper is the reason everyone's going to point to when trying to figure out what went wrong.

Five: And Then Comes Sept. 1st, When Our Rosters Expand Like Darryl Ward's Waistband After the Lunch Spread
On September 1st, major league rosters expand. This just means that from that date, clubs can supplement their 25 man roster with as many players from the 40 man roster as they like. Keep in mind, not all players on the 40 man are ready, and some are injured and on the 15 day DL. But you can expect to see several familiar faces coming in as reinforcements from Triple A Iowa. An extra catcher seems a lock (Geovany Soto). Maybe we'll see some extra young relief arms (Rocky Cherry and Sean Gallagher seem likely picks). One or two exiled veterans returning to the show could happen, too (Will Ohman and/or Neal Cotts?). Likely there'll be some extra bench help (Scott Moore, Ronny Cedeno, Jake Fox, Eric Patterson?). Highly regarded hurler Jeff Samardzija has an outside chance of coming up from Double A, but the Cubs will more likely opt to wait, so as not to start the clock ticking on arbitration, free agency, et al. too early.

And now, go to your calendar and make room. There's a Cubs/Brewers series to watch.

Sox in Five

Playing Out the Stretch, Trying Not to Wretch
by Steve Gozdecki

One: What a Difference 22 Months Can Make
Which is worse — giving up 47 runs in a span of four games, or scoring a mere seven over that same span? Like the chicken and the egg, this question could be debated for ages. Less than two years ago, the Chicago White Sox brutally and definitively destroyed any hopes that the Boston Red Sox had of repeating as World Series champions, swiftly dispatching them three games to none in the American League Divisional Series on the way to winning the whole thing. Somehow, the four games played over the weekend — won by the BoSox by a combined 47-7 score — felt like so much payback, as well as a lesson in how to stay at the top of your game instead of following up a championship year with a disappointing one that leads into a disastrous one. But sadly, while the Red Sox provide the exception, the White Sox follow the rule that says that success in baseball more often comes in cycles rather than a sustainable stretch. And baby, our cycle of success is long past.

Two: Still Fiery
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski and hitting coach Greg Walker provided the only fireworks during the 11-1 beating the Sox of Red inflicted on the White Sox Sunday, as the two were seen and heard having a heated discussion after Walker called Pierzynski out for a lack of preparedness in the batter's box. Much as most Sox fans want Walker out after the woeful offensive season this club has had, scuffling with Pierzynski almost certainly raised the hitting coach's Q rating a few points. Amusingly — or is it much to my disappointment? — little Joey Cora was able to get between the two disagreeing parties and talk them down before anybody went Zambrano.

Three: Call Him Josh "Left" Fields
In a mildly surprising move, Sunday saw rookie third baseman Josh Fields become rookie leftfielder Josh Fields. The knee-jerk reaction would be to assume that this is a knee-jerk reaction by a manager who is frustrated by Fields' many errors and miscues. More realistically, it's an acknowledgement that Joe Crede and his surgically repaired back are in the team's plans for 2008, and that the club wants both Crede and Fields together in the same lineup. Assuming Fields can hack it with the glove out in left field, this move means that the unsettled 2008 White Sox outfield situation is settling in a bit, with the re-signed Jermaine Dye to man right field next year with Fields in left. Of course, a highly plausible scenario would see the Sox trying to establish some trade value for Crede and then moving him at the trade deadline (if not before — the chances of the 2008 club contending aren't all that great), then bringing Fields back to the infield. Wherever he may end up in the field, Fields is proving that he can hit.

Four: September Callups
By the time this column next appears, the White Sox will have called up a player or two from the minor leagues as major league active rosters expand to as many as 40 players per team. Among the more interesting possibilities for the Sox are a pair of hurlers who have yet to see the major leagues, righthander Jack Egbert and lefthander Gio Gonzalez, both of whom have toiled this season down at AA Birmingham. Egbert got off to a great start this season before slumping, but has since returned to form. Over the course of the season, he has struck out three guys for every walk he's issued, and he has fanned more than a hitter per inning — both nice indicators of a genuine pitching prospect. Gonzalez has had a season similar to Egbert, minus the return to form. If the Sox do intend to shut down rookie John Danks in September — something they were discussing a few weeks ago — don't be surprised if Egbert and/or Gonzalez picks up a start or two in his place.

Five: Misery Loves Company
It's funny — as I was brainstorming column topics this weekend, I thought a peek at the Houston Astros could prove illustrative as to how there's nothing at all unique about the White Sox struggles so soon after a world championship, what with the Astros having played the part of the doormat that brought the White Sox World Series winner home in 2005. And then, lo and behold, yesterday the Astros went and fired manager Phil Garner and general manager Tim Purpura. Like the White Sox, the Astros followed up their World Series appearance with a winning season in 2006 but found themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs came around. And like the White Sox, the Astros have been flirting with last place this season. But because there's so much more glory in winning the World Series than losing one, the axe has yet to fall on any of the Sox brass or field bosses. So while the Astros clean house and look to build for the future, the White Sox executive team members — bolstered by a team owner who values loyalty above competence, and who has implemented a system of cronyism that has seen former players win jobs over more qualified outsiders when it has come to filling spots in the executive suite, broadcast booth and dugout — hold onto their jobs and get accolades blown up their rears by Jerry Reinsdorf.

Fire in Five

The Cliff's Notes Version
by Steve Gillies

Since I spent most of the weekend fleeing in terror as part of a crowd shot in a superhero movie being shot in Chicago that a non-disclosure agreement prevents me from naming, here's an abbreviated column on what went on this week.

One: You Win One, You Lose One
The Fire split their two games with Kansas City this week, losing 3-2 in KC and then winning the rematch 2-0 at Toyota Park. So they're right back where they started in terms of playoff contention, where it's within reach (one point away from Columbus to be exact), but it's going to be a dogfight for the next two months.

Two: Happily Eating Crow
While I knew Blanco would lead to an attendance bump, I didn't really think he would add very much on the field. I was wrong. Of the four goals the Fire scored this week, Blanco assisted three and scored the fourth. The goal was a free kick bent around the wall in the style of a Designated Player that's getting a lot more headlines accomplishing a lot less for his team.

Three: Why No Highlights, Gringo?
As someone that couldn't make the game, I managed to track down Blanco's free kick on highlights shown by ESPN Deportes, but not ESPN or the league's usually awesome highlights page. It kind of made me wish ESPN and the league would spend more time promoting what Blanco's doing here to more than just Spanish language media outlets. You know if that was a certain Anglophone metrosexual taking that free kick it would be the Play of the Day. They'd probably be making feature length movies about it.

Four: The Latest Round of Injuries
Matt Pickens has been out the last two games with an injured groin. It doesn't hurt us as much as you'd think since backup keeper Jon Busch is actually pretty good. Justin Mapp is out again as well with an ankle injury. Again, it's not as huge a blow as you'd think as the Fire have been without Mapp due to the national team and injuries for most of the season. But it would be great to get him on the field with Blanco the Fire would be offering two very different threats coming out of midfield and opposing teams would probably be confused as to whom to spend more time fouling.

Five: Brazil is Bringing It
Any fears that Brazil would bring less than their full team for their September 9 friendly with the US at Soldier Field have been laid to rest. Ronaldinho and Kaka, two players on anybody's shortlist for best player in the world, will be in the lineup along with the likes of Robinho, Daniel Alves, Lucio and Gilberto.

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the mayor / August 28, 2007 8:46 PM

i love keith hernandez with all my rainbow heart! have you guys seen this? i'm keith hernandez - the movie

michelle / August 29, 2007 1:08 PM

The punchline to the Pierzynski-Walker spat is that Manny Delcarmen says he doesn't throw a cut fastball, the pitch AJ was bitching about. And be careful around Little Joey -- remember what he did to Big Z with a fungo bat in last year's All-Star game!

Steve / August 29, 2007 1:43 PM

Hmmm...was the thing that Cora did to Big Z as odd as
the thing that happened to Aramis Ramirez in the dugout a while back


About the Author(s)

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to

Steve Gozdecki has been a White Sox fan his entire life, with the exception of an ill-advised flirtation with the 1984 Cubs in the days when his town wasn't wired for cable. Because he swears by the work of the "baseball outsiders," who believe that statistical analysis trumps old truisms like subjective evaluation and team chemistry, he found himself pleasantly surprised when the Sox won it all last year. Each week through the season, Steve will bring you five crucial talking points you can use the next time someone says, "Hey, how 'bout them Sox?" Send comments to

Steve Gillies has been a Fire fan since he stood in a torrential downpour while the Fire beat New England 6-0 and he realized watching American soccer games in person was a lot better than watching European football matches on television. Each week he'll give you five things to talk about if you happen to get cornered by one of those soccer people at a party. Send comments to

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